Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the United Nations imposed harsh economic sanctions on Iraq to force it end its occupation of the country. Though Iraq withdrew from Kuwait in 1991, the United Nations did not lift the sanctions. The sanctions crippled the economy as a whole, led to exponential inflation, and decimated the health care and education systems. This catastrophe was brought about by policies adopted by the United States and Britain, in particular, which included restricting imports of food and goods, the undermining of the sale of oil in exchange for food, and the destruction of public infrastructure during the Gulf War of 1991. Joy Gordon called the sanction years, from 1990 to 2003, “an invisible war” waged mainly by the United States and Britain through their efforts to undermine any attempts to lift the sanctions by members in the United Nations. This paper, based on fieldwork with Iraqi exiles in London, will offer an account of how the United States employed sanctions as a venue to further its imperial interests in Iraq. I argue that the sanctions as a form of invisible war engendered conditions of what Lauren Berlant calls slow death, whereby my interlocutors inhabited an in-between zone of getting by within structures of inequality brought about by US imperial interventions in the Gulf. Moreover, the paper will examine the interrelations between the sanctions, class, and gender, which gave rise to a new discourse of Iraqiness, associated with endurance, resilience, and suffering.